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Martin Pushes DTV-Education Mandates, Multicast Must-Carry

The bad news for TV stations is that Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin wants to mandate broadcaster digital-TV-education public-service announcements in a range of dayparts. The good news is that he is also taking another crack at multicast must-carry.

That news came at a House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee hearing on the DTV transition Wednesday, one of two being held on the same day -- the other scheduled in the Senate Commerce Committee for the afternoon.

Martin said he recently circulated an order to the other commissioners that would require broadcasters to air PSAs "throughout the day"; require broadcasters and others to file quarterly reports with the FCC on their DTV-education efforts; require cable and satellite providers to provide DTV-education bill-stuffers with their monthly statements; require receiver manufacturers to provide notice to consumers at point of sale; and "work with NTIA [the National Telecommunications and Information Administration] to ensure that retailers are appropriately training their employees and informing their consumers."

Martin also used the hearing to pitch mandatory cable carriage of broadcasters' multiple digital signals as a particularly effective way of driving DTV adoption. Currently, per FCC policy, cable operators are required only to carry the digital replication of TV stations' primary signals.

Martin said broadcasters should be "able to and encouraged to use their digital spectrum to send multiple television signals to their viewers for free," adding that it could "fundamentally change for the better the course of the digital transition."

Rather than pitching the DTV-to-analog converter box as something to prevent viewers from losing TV altogether, he said, there would be a more positive message about watching a wide array of new free programming. "What was a burden becomes a meaningful benefit," he added.

Martin said he circulated an item that would "help facilitate multicasting and require cable companies to carry these additional multiple streams," adding that he was "hopeful that a majority of the commissioners would soon realize the potential benefit of this policy for the DTV transition."

Martin tried to vote out a multicast must-carry proposal last June, but he was unable to muster a majority. He has said that he hopes for a vote on the DTV-education mandates by the end of the month.

While FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein has been pushing for a task force to coordinate the DTV transition, Martin told the committee Wednesday that he did not anticipate creating such a task force.

For his part, Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said he expected Martin to be the Tom Brady of the transition effort, a reference to the New England Patriots’ quarterback. "We will be counting on you for the leadership to coordinate various aspects of transition," Markey added.

That came in part as a response to some Government Accountability Office findings from the GAO's Mark Goldstein. He said that report, which will be released in November, found that there was no coordinating authority in charge, no comprehensive plan, and no contingency plan. That troubled Markey and several other committee members.